This article is an exposition of Ruth 3.

Source: The Evangelical Presbyterian, 2010. 3 pages.

False Start

Sinclair Ferguson has described the book of Ruth as one of the “greatest short stories ever written”, and when you consider the ground that we have already covered, you can understand why. We have had famine, emigration, family tragedy, a dramatic conversion, bitter recriminations and the dawning of a romance, and all in the space of just two chapters. In this article we are going to look at Ruth 3, a chapter that helps us to interpret God’s providence in our lives.

1. The Best and the Worst🔗

We are going to look at two things. Firstly, notice that we have The best of motives, but the worst of methods. Have you ever read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, or seen one of the films based on the book? If you have, you will know that one of the most amusing characters is Mrs Bennett. Her greatest desire is to see her daughters married and married well. But as the story unfolds, it soon becomes apparent that Mrs Bennett poses the greatest threat to her daughters’ marriage prospects, by her ill-planned schemes and outspokenness. Now we have something similar in Ruth 3 as Naomi tries to bring Ruth and Boaz together.

  1. Best of motives. It is important to notice that Naomi has the best of motives. Listen to her as she explains her reasoning in 3:1: “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (ESV). What does Naomi want? She wants to see her daughter-in-law settled. She knows that whilst Ruth remains unmarried, her future is insecure, especially because Ruth is a foreigner. So whilst she is still around to help, Naomi wants to do what she can to find Ruth a good husband. These are good motives.
  2. Biblical principles. It is also important to realise that, to a certain extent, Naomi is guided by Biblical principles. She says in 3:2: “Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.” (ESV) Now firstly, Naomi obviously regards Ruth’s encounter with Boaz as providential and of course she is right. But secondly, the fact that he is also their relative is important, because as we shall see next time, it means that he has certain legal obligations towards them, as set down in Scripture. So as Naomi sends Ruth to Boaz she is guided, to a certain extent, by these Biblical principles.
  3. Worst of methods. So Naomi has the best of motives and is guided by Biblical principle, but it is at this point that things begin to unravel. The problem is the method she employs. In 3:3-5, she tells Ruth to make herself look presentable and to go to Boaz when he has retired for the night, and to lie at his uncovered feet. Can you see the problem? Naomi is taking a huge risk here. Now there has been a lot of debate amongst commentators about Naomi’s actions, but whilst I do not think she is encouraging Ruth to seduce Boaz, she is taking a huge risk with her daughter-in-law’s reputation and personal safety. Anyone could have spotted Ruth entering the threshing floor, come to the wrong conclusion and spread the news far and wide. Naomi is also taking a risk regarding Boaz himself. Can she be sure that he will act honourably, when he finds a young attractive woman lying at his feet? There are just so many dangers here.

    Now we can learn from Naomi at this point. Sometimes we can have the best of motives for doing what we are doing. Sometimes we are guided, to a certain extent by Biblical principles in doing it. But then we ruin things by employing unbiblical and questionable methods. It is not that Naomi is barking up the wrong tree here. She is barking up the right tree. Her hunch that God has providentially brought Boaz into Ruth’s life is correct, but then she takes matters into her own hands. Derek Thomas talks about Naomi running ahead of providence at this point, and we can do the same. We run ahead of providence and in our impatience we take matters into our own hands, employing questionable methods. As a result, we get ourselves into difficulties. Good motives, good guiding principles, but bad methods. The example of Naomi here underlines the old saying, “The end never justifies the means”, which is something that we need to remember.

2. Stronger and Stronger🔗

So we are to strive to have good motives, good principles, and good methods. Secondly, notice that we have a strong temptation, but an even stronger character. We were talking earlier about Pride and Prejudice and you may remember that for most of the story, Elizabeth Bennett has a very low opinion of Mr Darcy. She regards him as a proud and arrogant man, who treats others dreadfully. But that opinion changes radically when her sister Lydia runs off with Mr Wickham and Darcy takes it upon himself to find them.

Now again we have something similar here in relation to Boaz. It’s not that his true character has been hidden from us. On the contrary we have known that he is a worthy man from the beginning. (2:1) But we now see him operating in an incredibly difficult situation and the character of the man shines out. Consequently we can learn from him.

  1. Strong Temptation. For example in 3:6-8 he faces a very strong temptation. Think about what is going on here. Boaz has been working hard. He has had a good meal and a few glasses of wine, which isn’t a sin, and he retires for the evening. During the night, his uncovered feet get cold and he awakes with a shudder. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, he can make out the form of a young woman lying at his feet. Its Ruth! She is young and we have reason to believe that he is already attracted to her, and they are alone in the dark. What is he going to do? Well, our text makes it clear that Boaz stands firm. Can you see how the character of the man shines out here? The same is true of Ruth, who immediately clarifies why she is there (3:9). Now I am sure that Boaz is just as much a man as any other and has the same longings as other men, but as Sinclair Ferguson has said, “Boaz does not mistake temptation for an opportunity”, and as a result, he stands firm.
  2. Good Understanding. Another thing to notice about Boaz is that he has a good understanding of and approach towards, providence. We all struggle at times to understand God’s providence in our lives don’t we? But look at Boaz. He could have said something like this to himself: – “She likes me. I like her. Providence has thrown us together. Therefore, it must be God’s will.” Now you could understand that couldn’t you? But Boaz understands that you don’t interpret Scripture in the light of providence, but providence in the light of Scripture. To quote Ferguson again: – “Scripture provides the lenses through which we interpret and respond to every providence of God.”
  3. High View of Scripture. Boaz doesn’t simply act on the basis of events, but he asks himself, – “What does Scripture say?” and that shows us his high view of Scripture. Automatically he starts to think Biblically and that’s amazing when you remember that he has just woken up! It takes a while for my brain to get up-and-running first thing in the morning, but Boaz is awake and alert, and being guided by the Scriptures (see 3:11-13). He doesn’t touch Ruth. He acknowledges his responsibilities and is willing to carry them out. But in addition, he recognises that someone else has a prior claim and Boaz is willing to defer to him. Despite events and his own feelings, Boaz submits to the authority of Scripture.

We can find ourselves in situations, where events seem to be leading us in a particular direction and sometimes our emotions can be involved as well. Perhaps we desperately want to go in the direction that events seem to be leading, but in those circumstances, we need to be like Boaz. However clear the leading may be, however strongly we may feel that this is the right direction for our lives, we must ask the question, – “What does Scripture say?” We must allow Scripture to have the final say. Just imagine what would have happened if Boaz had ignored Scripture and simply gone with his feelings.

But as we close, we need to ask, – “What is Boaz’s secret?” How come he doesn’t crumple in the face of overwhelming temptation? How come he has Scripture at his fingertips? How come he can submit to the authority of Scripture, even when it clashes with his own feelings? I think the answer is simple. He loves the Lord and takes his relationship with the Lord seriously. There is nothing half­hearted about Boaz’s religion, and to be like him, we don’t simply need to know the Scriptures, but we need to nurture our relationship with the God who stands behind the Scriptures. Everything should flow from our love for Christ. We should study Scripture, because we want to know more about him and what pleases him, and if that spirit governs our lives, we will be better able to take our stand with men and women like Boaz and Ruth. Amen.

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